Tom Dumoulin admitted he finished Wednesday's time trial a "broken man", but is now quietly confident he can recover and find some final drops of energy and determination for Sunday's elite men's road race to end the UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria, on a high.
"This is my last push. I'll squeeze out my last drops of energy of the season. I'm going all out Sunday; there’s no advantage to holding back. I only have the Hammer Series in Hong Kong after this, but that's short and so nice," Dumoulin said as the Netherlands team – men and women – talked about their chances for a possible double rainbow jersey weekend in the road races.
"That would be amazing," Bauke Mollema told Cyclingnews. "For sure, the women are the big favourites in their race, and they could even finish and second with Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen. But we're going for the win, too."
Dumoulin, Mollema, Steven Kruijswijk and Wout Poels appear to be leaders for the men's Netherlands team. They are the cornerstones of a strong and experienced Dutch squad built around their current strength in Grand Tours. Also in the eight-rider line-up are Wilco Kelderman, Sam Oomen, Pieter Weening and Antwan Tolhoek.
The riders trained on the road race course on Friday and got a chance to study the steep Höll climb that comes in the final kilometres of the 258.5km road race. Seeing the steep, narrow road that is widely expected to decide the men's race appeared to boost Dumoulin's moral after the dejection of finishing second in Wednesday's time time trial to Australia's Rohan Dennis.
"It's nice – I like it. It's cool. It's going to be a nice World Championships," Dumoulin said with genuine enthusiasm and perhaps an idea about his chances and race tactics.
"There's a chance that, if I wait, I won't be explosive enough to go with guys like Simon Yates [Great Britain] and Julian Alaphilippe [France], but I'm confident about waiting, too. I normally like steep climbs. I haven't had a top result in a Classic, so I'm not a favourite, but we'll see how we feel."
Dumoulin knows he cannot demand absolute team leadership with so many other strong riders pulling on orange jerseys on Sunday, so he was keen to portray himself as a team player in the Dutch squad.
"We don't have a guy to name as team leader," he said. "We're strong, but we don't have an Alaphilippe or [Spain's Alejandro] Valverde in our team. We don't have one leader, but we have guys who can do a good race. We have Wout, who of course won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and we've got Bauke, Wilco and Steven. I think we have best team we could have for this course.
"My team time trial was good, but my individual time trial was no," continued Dumoulin. "I'm not 100 per cent, but I'm pretty confident that I can be on a good level come Sunday."
Eliminating Peter Sagan before the finale
Dumoulin is convinced that the 7.9km climb on the Olympic circuit that is covered six times, and especially the final Höll climb just nine kliometres form the finish, make this year's Innsbruck World Championships a race for the best Ardennes Classics and Grand Tour riders. He's determined to ensure that Slovakia's Peter Sagan or other fast finishers like Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium will, and can, be dropped on the climbs, and especially on the final Höll climb.
"I'm guessing Peter won't survive the last climb in the first group, but he could get back on if the others start to look at each other. That's his chance to win," Dumoulin said of Sagan.
Of course, I'd have said the same thing about Greg Van Avermaet's chances in the Olympic road race in Rio, but he won it. Peter can also attack on the downhill, and so then it's a tactical race chasing him. But I'm not the one who has to worry about Peter Sagan. I think the other favourites need to do that."
Mollema: I feel ready to fight
Mollema is also ready for a hard, selective race, so that he can use his naturally aggressive style of racing. Mollema's talents on the Dutch team have arguably been overshadowed by Dumoulin's emergence in the last two years, but he has a better Classics pedigree and so will start Sunday's road race on an equal footing, with Poels the Dutch team's secret rider on form.
Mollema rode aggressively and generously at the recent Vuelta a España. It failed to land him a stage victory, but it did leave him on form for Innsbruck.
"I feel good and really fresh. I've recovered well after doing the Vuelta, but not riding for the GC," he told Cyclingnews.
"I've had some good results in hard Ardennes Classics and won the Clasica San Sebastian in 2016. I was sixth in this year's Flèche Wallonne, and Sunday's finish is similarly hard. I think it suits me, and there's a good chance I'll wait for the final climb or maybe the last long climb. I feel ready to fight in the finale.
"I think this generation of riders get on well, and know each other well," said Mollema, playing down any likelihood of a clash of interests within a team that has a number of possible leaders. "We've ridden together in the past, and even raced on the same [trade] teams. We know how to race together, and hope that one of us can bring home the rainbow jersey."